The Omnibus Budget passed last week by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama moves our campaign to eradicate polio one step closer to reality, thanks to the leadership of Democrat Sen. Patty Murray and Republican Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky.
They, along with many congressional supporters from both parties, were able to increase the budget for polio eradication for the first time in many years.
In 1985, Rotary Clubs from around the world took up the challenge to eliminate polio from the face of the Earth. Polio was already eradicated in much of the developed world thanks to the Salk and Sabin vaccines, but thousands of children in Third World countries contracted polio each year. Polio left most of them as “crawlers” — people who lived the rest of their lives with contracted muscles that allowed them only to crawl on the ground and beg for food and shelter.
Beginning in the Philippines, Rotary organizations coordinated campaigns to vaccinate children. House by house, city by city and country by country, Rotarians worked alongside the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization to slowly eliminate this dreadful disease. Some areas were difficult and some were easier.
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Tens of thousands of Rotarians have contributed more than $1 billion to the effort, and thousands of our members have traveled overseas at their own expense to vaccinate children in the world’s most remote locations. From the South Sound, traveling vaccinators have included Bill and Karen McCarthy, Steve and Judy Henderson, Rebecca Sherrill, George Munro, Jan Nutting and others whose names have slipped from my mind.
In 2004, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation joined the effort. They have made immense contributions to help in the fight. Bill Gates himself has told both Rotary and the Congress that he and his wife, Melinda, will match whatever contributions are made from public or private funds. And they have stuck to their word.
Rotarians continue to contribute immense amounts of money. The Gates Foundation has continued its commitment to eradication.
And now the Congress of the United States has stepped forward with new determination to eradicate the scourge of polio forever. One reason this funding received strong bipartisan support was the realization that total elimination of this terrible disease will save nearly $1 billion dollars a year in money that is currently spent to keep polio and other childhood diseases at bay.
Today, we are down to three very difficult countries — Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. When India was declared “free of polio” last year, we all had renewed strength and determination to finish the job. But we know that completion will be the hardest step of all.
The last steps are always the most difficult, no matter what race you are in. We are fortunate here in Washington that our entire congressional delegation has been very supportive. But a special thanks needs to go out to Murray and Rogers for moving us closer to full eradication of polio. May God bless them both.
Ralph Munro, Washington’s former longtime secretary of state, belong to the Olympia Rotary Club.